J-L finds silver lining in being victimized by ransomware
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG — What sounds more like a “Crime Scene Investigation” episode than real-life scenario actually happened to Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (JLAS).
JLAS fell prey to what Superintendent Katy Xenakis-Makowski has learned is an all-too common form of hacking, as its servers were recently attacked by “ransomware” and the school district extorted for money.
“Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools recently identified a ransomware infection that impacted some of its computer systems,” the school said in a statement. “Upon learning of this issue, the district promptly began an investigation, working closely with external cyber security professionals and forensic investigators.”
Fortunately for J-L, its insurance provider covered the ransom amount and the school district was only required to pay a deductible.
“We had to pay a deductible on our insurance for this whole thing and everything is encompassed in that,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
Xenakis-Makowski said she was unaware of what ransomware was or that it could affect the school until the infection happened.
“Ransomware works by locking up files on an electronic device, making them inaccessible,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “It doesn’t open them, it doesn’t read them, and it doesn’t copy them. It just locks them.”
Basically, any file on an infected server or system is inaccessible, Xenakis-Makowski said of the ransomware’s effect.
Approximately one month ago, Xenakis-Makowski was informed by a school technology consultant that something was preventing any file on the district’s servers from being opened.
“Bots out there just throw username and password combinations until something sticks,” she said.
As far as J-L has gathered through its month long investigation, the perpetrators are located somewhere in Germany and sent the ransomware virus through four other countries before finding a home in the J-L servers.
“I don’t want to say for certain how it happened because we aren’t even for sure on that yet,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “Somehow someone was able to hack into a server and encrypt files.”
While she was directed to report the incident to the FBI, she said the school isn’t a big enough entity for any further action to be pursued.
“Unfortunately, we’re not big enough for someone to do something about it,” she said. “It’s not like someone in Joburg or Michigan did it.”
But the most important aspect of the situation is that no student or staff data was compromised, she said.
Thankfully, the district does not keep its student and staff data on its servers, so the ransomware didn’t even have the opportunity to get to those files.
While J-L may have avoided more serious consequences, the impact was significant.
“Our network isn’t completely back up yet,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “It will be about a full month from when it happened until everything is fully functional and working.”
For about a week after the cyber attack, Xenakis-Makowski and other members of J-L’s Board of Education brought in unaffected devices, such as personal MacBooks and tablets, and hooked up to Wi-Fi hotspots on cell phones so they could continue working.
Though the situation has created an inconvenience, to phrase it mildly, Xenakis-Makowski said J-L was been fortunate that people responded right away.
“It happened on a Sunday morning, and Sunday night we already had people working on it,” she said. “Our insurance carrier subcontracts this out to a cyber security insurance group. And then we partnered up with a forensic cyber security firm in New York and have regular contact with them.”
Xenakis-Makowski was adamant the situation isn’t necessarily as bad as it may seem.
In fact, it could be seen as a blessing in disguise if the past month is any indication.
“Now that (ransomware) is happening and happened to us, here’s what we need to think about,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
J-L has taken a number of positive steps forward after the incident.
The situation has brought about an increased awareness to the very real threat of cyber attacks and how important cyber security is, even for places as small as Johannesburg and Lewiston.
The district has begun looking into improvements in those areas.
“We are upping our anti-virus,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “We had one that worked on some things but obviously not everything. A better anti-virus may not take care of everything, but it could help.”
Cloud-based storage is also something that Xenakis-Makowski said could prove to be beneficial.
“We’ve already started to shift to it, but if you are using a Google doc system or some kind of storage online, that’s not impacted by something like (ransomware) because you’re not saving anything on a server,” she said.
J-L’s servers are over 10 years old, and the district had already been planning on purchasing new ones over the next three years.
“We’ve just said we’re going to start over with a clean system and new servers,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
She also said the district could look at backing up data offsite rather than at the district’s buildings in Johannesburg and Lewiston.
“If you do a backup, you need to do it offsite and then that way if files get encrypted you say ‘fine, you can keep them and we can go back to our backup from the previous week,’” she said.
Xenakis-Makowski said one district within the Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Educational Service District (COPESD), which includes nine other school districts beside J-L, has been pushing to develop a tech team system at the ESD level that can be replicated in each of the districts.
“They loaned us tech people to come in and help,” she said. “And they have begun piloting a black box system that blocks IP addresses from foreign countries. It’s an additional firewall on top of the security systems already in place.”
She said J-L is very fortunate to have a team of technology support personnel and partners with the COPESD to help when needed.
Perhaps most importantly, Xenakis-Makowski said she can see another career path for some kids now.
“This has kind of opened up my eyes to this whole new vein of job opportunities for these kids,” she said. “It’s a way they could do something with an interest in technology that would be beneficial.”
Xenakis-Makowski said that overall the situation has been a revelation in terms of awareness about cyber attacks and how J-L can take steps to improve cyber security.
“Ransomware can happen through multiple means — it can happen by clicking on an email or going to a fake website or it can happen through foreign or domestic attacks (hacks) on a computer or server where a person or system attempt to log in to your system remotely,” she said. “We are now more keenly aware of how many foreign attacks happen on a regular basis and that as we continue to improve technology, we have to ensure we consider layers of cyber security.”
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
GAYLORD — A group of dual-enrollment students from Gaylord High School and Johannesburg-Lewiston High School aim to completely build a Habitat for Humanity home during the school year.
Ayden Lauer, J-L senior, said he feels pretty good that someone is going to live in a house he helped to build.
Class members said they preferred days where they worked on the house as opposed to when they needed to stay inside on days with poor weather and work in the classroom.
“This part right here (is my favorite), this is the foundation and everything of the house,” Lauer said. “Because I never knew how it worked. Now I know how a house is built."
Students work on building four days each week through the Kirtland Community College build program.
Curt Losee, Kirtland Community College instructor, said students started building the house just outside the Kirtland M-TEC building last month.
“As we go on, we will do the drywall inside, we’ll do all the trim work inside,” he said. “We’ll put the kitchen cabinets in, we’re going to do the whole thing. It’s going to get picked up and moved to the site.”
Tish Jankowski, executive director of the Otsego County Habitat for Humanity, said the house is set to be moved to the Pinecrest subdivision area in Hayes Township.
Jankowski said Barry and Nila Fisher and their family of four should be able to move into the finished home in June.
She said she is excited the relationship between Kirtland and the schools allows for students to earn college credit while learning skilled trades and helping a family build a home.
The house in progress is built over a cement slab in the University Center Gaylord/Kirtland M-TEC parking lot on Livingston Boulevard.
Sarah Holecheck, director of public information for Kirtland, said in an email that while students have helped with Habitat for Humanity homes in the past, this is the first house they have built “from the ground up.”
Steven Fosgard, the college’s dean of occupational programs, said in an email the Habitat for Humanity Build Program includes a “series of module classes that take in Core Construction, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning, and electrical.”
He said students in the program earn 13.9 credits through the 28 modular courses.
Fosgard said the home will continue being built on site and will be moved to its permanent location toward the end of the winter semester. He said Habitat determined the home's size and layout.
The three-bedroom, single-family Gaylord home is expected to be complete around the middle of May, but the construction is somewhat dependent on the weather.
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston High School seniors Ali Loren and Courtney Sullivan were pretty surprised by the superhero-themed invite they received at the end of the last school year.
“I felt honored, because there’s a lot of people that could have been chosen to help with that, and I was was one of the people that got in,” Sullivan said.
Both were invited into the school's academic mentorship program where students are paired up to help in high school classrooms.
This is Loren's second year being a mentor. She helps with American history during her off hour as a dual enrollment student.
“When they’re getting help from one of their peers it makes them feel better about it,” Loren said. “And I can relate more to them because I’m (a student).”
Sullivan helps as a high school biology mentor and is also a dual enrollment student with three college classes.
“I feel like it has a good impact on a lot of the students because we’ve been in their shoes at one point, so we know exactly how it feels,” Sullivan said.
Both seniors are scheduled to share details about the school’s academic mentorship program at a leadership conference for students next week.
Curt Chrencik, Johannesburg-Lewiston High School principal, said the academic mentor program invites students who are responsible, academically thriving and come with recommendations from teachers.
“At the end of the school year, we do like a secret invitation to kids, and we usually have a theme,” Chrencik said. “The invitations get delivered to the kids that qualify to be academic mentors.”
Mentors choose subjects they are interested in helping with and are matched up with classes.
“We identify students that are struggling and classes that may benefit from extra support,” Chrencik said.
There are 14 mentors matched with 14 classes at JLHS this year.
Chrencik said the school got the idea from another school that had a similar program and J-L's Student Assistance Team (SAT) crew went to work implementing the program about three years ago.
Teachers Angela Baldwin, Ann Beaver, Amy Harjala, Michelle Kossa, Tammy Myers and Diane Tenbusch have been involved with the team, Chrencik said.
This is the first year where a mentor is helping at Johannesburg-Lewiston Middle School.
“We wanted to get it so that it was running well and we worked out some of the bugs at the high school before we actually allowed them into the middle school,” Chrencik said. “We want to take care of those areas that are needed at the high school before we filter them down into the middle school.”
Chrencik said many of the mentors are dual enrollment students who have college classes later in the day.
Dual enrollment leaves students an hour of flexible time to finish homework or earn volunteer hours through the academic mentor program.
“They can use that hour if they want to be a mentor in a classroom,” he said. “This person (a mentor) is a person that can really help support kids whether it’s a situation where they need to keep kids on task or keep them engaged or foster conversation.”
Mentors help classes by doing things like working one on one with students, leading classroom discussions and helping students to stay on task.
Hall of Fame profile: Former Cardinals' star Moll was a standout in 3 sports
By Brandon Folsom - Gaylord Herald Times Sports Editor
Tony Moll probably would have carried on his legacy at the next level had he not decided to serve in the U.S. Army for nine years after high school.
The 1989 Johannesburg-Lewiston graduate, who was recruited by eight different colleges for athletics, will be inducted into the Greater Otsego County Sports Hall of Fame during a special banquet at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Eagles Hall in Gaylord, 515 S. Wisconsin Ave. He's part of a class that features six former athletes, one team and one athletic trainer.
Moll earned 12 varsity letters for the Cardinals from 1985-1989.
He stood out the most on the football field, especially on defense as a safety. He was a two-time all-stater, compiling 337 career tackles, 25 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries, ultimately going on two win the Bay City News Golden Helmet Award twice. Offensively, he ended his career with 3,270 yards rushing and 2,506 yards passing. As a senior, he averaged 8.1 yards per carry, finishing with 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also averaged 44.6 yards per punt. J-L named him its MVP for football during his junior and senior years, and as a senior, it awarded him its Athlete of the Year honor.
On the basketball court, Moll was a four-year player on the varsity as a guard. He totaled 1,240 points, 271 rebounds, 346 assists and 266 steals during his career, en route to finishing with all-area and all-state honors. He also guided the Cardinals to a district championship in 1989.
Moll was no slouch as a baseball player either. He won 70 percent of his games as a pitcher, while he also played shortstop and third base, and he batted .429 for his career. As a junior and senior, he led the Cardinals in stolen bases and runs scored. He was all-area as well.
J-L to see about $1.2 million in summer, fall projects
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (JLAS) has some of the original bathrooms and fixtures in its Johannesburg building that were created when the school was built in 1959.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, JLAS superintendent, said the old bathrooms are among the roughly $1.2 million in projects taking place this summer and fall.
She said while some projects are covered by the district's sinking fund, others are coming from separate funds like safety and security since certain funds are only allowed for specific projects.
“Our sinking fund is currently bringing in just over $900,000 a year, and we’ve been trying to keep a portion of that so that if something goes wrong during the year, you’ve got a pot to work with if a boiler goes or something like that,” she said. “This summer we really tried to knock out a whole bunch of projects … We took out a few more projects (than) we had initially planned.”
The district replaced hallway carpeting last year, but this summer Xenakis-Makowski said the focus is replacing classroom carpeting at both Johannesburg and Lewiston buildings.
She said the district is also replacing its old fluorescent lights with more efficient LED's.
At its meeting July 9, the board of education approved a measure known as a tax anticipation note so the district can borrow money from a bank and repay it later with sinking fund money.
“It just makes sense because, for example, we have a lighting project that’s costing us about $190,000 up front and that’s to do all the LED lights,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “Instead of putting it off a year or two, we’re doing it now because you get the savings from the electricity use going down, and you get the benefit of the LED lights and you get some grant money back. It costs less to do it now because construction costs are going up over 5 percent a year.”
She said some electricity companies like Great Lakes Energy give grant money to customers who invest in increased efficiency and some local banks will give schools smaller interest rates.
The note is currently out for bid with local banks, she said.
Xenakis-Makowski said the district is also getting digital signage for its Johannesburg and Lewiston locations as well as new security and phone systems.
“The original cameras that were in here were poorer quality and so we’re using some safety and security money to update those cameras and the old ones are running the coax cable cords, the new ones are a different type of cord so we have to have some new lines run,” Xenakis-Makowski said. “And since we’re running new lines, we might as well run lines for phones, too.”
She said the schools will be switching to a digital phone system.
The high school track at Johannesburg is also in line to be resurfaced.
“It’s been 17 years since it was done,” Xenakis-Makowski said, adding that project is not likely to start until September.
The district also is replacing the old exterior insulation finishing on both buildings that was applied in the 1970s.
“We’re sealing the building, we’re making it so that the work that’s being done should easily last another 20 to 25 years," Xenakis-Makowski said.
Aside from the track, Xenakis-Makowski said the projects are expected to be complete before classes resume in September.
Nearing 3-year milestone, J-L superintendent rated 'highly effective'
JOHANNESBURG — Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools’ superintendent received the highest possible evaluation score for the second year in a row.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski received a highly effective rating by the district’s board of education meeting last month as she is reaching her three-year anniversary with J-L next week.
“I enjoy being the superintendent in Johannesburg-Lewiston and making connections with all of the great people in our communities,” she said.
This is the third year J-L’s board has used the Michigan Association of School Boards' Superintendent Evaluation tool when performing the requisite annual evaluation.
Xenakis-Makowski was approved as superintendent at the district’s July 2015 board meeting, and in her first year, the board rated her as effective.
The evaluation tool uses points to score superintendent performance on professional practices, student growth and district goals. Superintendents can receive ratings of ineffective, minimally effective, effective and highly effective.
A highly effective superintendent meets a variety of criteria such as being someone who "is proactive in the determination of district needs and policy priorities," and is a superintendent who "actively seeks parental input, creates methods for parents to be actively involved in setting and supporting district‐wide goals."
“We will continue to work toward continuous improvement for our students and staff as we look at creating more opportunities for teaching and learning,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
No pressure: Coaches discuss succeeding legendary coaches, maintaining program relevance
When Zach Jonker took over the Petoskey boys and girls soccer teams in 2009, he wanted to maintain the success former coach Scott Batchelor’s had with both programs.
“Any pressure that I felt was more internal,” Jonker said. “(I was) wanting, for all the alumni as well as Scott, to keep the tradition of really strong soccer at Petoskey alive, so I guess if there was any pressure, it was on myself. I didn’t feel any outside pressure.”
Jonker both played under and learned from Batchelor, a Petoskey High School Hall of Fame coach who won 11 districts and three conference titles for the girls as well as two state titles, 17 districts, 12 conference titles and six regionals for the boys. So it was an easy transition for him to take over the team.
“I kind of understood the traditions, and I appreciated the time he put into it,” Jonker said. “I wanted to keep moving the program forward and continue the success that we’d had. There was a deep personal connection for me, and he set me up for success.”
It's never an easy task to replace a legendary coach. The expectations remain the same. But striving for success has helped Jonker keep the program headed in the right direction.
His boys team captured a Division 2 district title and appeared in the regional final last year, while the girls team has had six winning seasons in the last 10 years, which includes several Big North and district titles and long playoff runs.
But Jonker's teams aren't the only ones in the area that have enjoyed success after a great coach has moved on. Petoskey's ski team, for example, has been unbelievable to watch the past eight years, as they’ve brought home eight-consecutive Division 2 state championships, five straight under current coach Erik Lundteigen.
Lundteigen took over the already-dominant program previously led by Travis Hill and continued to win state title. He, too, didn't worry about having added pressure following Hill's success.
“No, I didn’t even worry about that,” Lundteigen said. “The thing about ski racing is you get different kids in the program every year and with the training that we do, there is a very good chance of being successful when you do it the right way, and good things tend to happen.”
Learning while playing
• One aspect of replacing a legend in the coaching ranks that can be beneficial is playing under that coach and learning from them during playing days.
That was not only the case for Jonker with Batchelor, but also true for Cody Proctor, who took over the Johannesburg-Lewiston baseball team last year after long-time coach Rick Guild, who spent decades as the leader of the Cardinals program, retired.
Guild coached the Cardinals for 41 years, amassing 823 career wins, which tied him for fifth-most in MHSAA history at the time of his retirement.
So when Proctor took over the reins of a program once led by an all-time great coach, what was the first thing that came to Proctor’s mind?
“My first thoughts were that I had big shoes to fill,” Proctor said of Guild, who coached him from 2003-06. “Coach Guild had been there for 40 years-plus, so my thoughts were I had big shoes to fill, and I was excited for the opportunity to follow him and start my own legacy.”
Though the shoes were rather large for Proctor to step into, he said he wasn’t afraid of the challenge at hand.
“I didn’t really feel any pressure,” Proctor said. “I just knew that in the past, that position was filled by a great coach, and I just wanted to do my best to keep it going. I wouldn’t say any pressure, just excitement, I guess.”
In his first season with the team last year, J-L finished 11-21 in a rebuilding season. While it wasn’t a season that ended with a championship, Proctor said the key to continuing the success of a good coach is patience.
“It takes time, and probably dedication more than anything,” Proctor said. “If you want to have a successful program, you have to spend more time than anybody else (getting better). That’s probably the number one thing. Spending the time to get everybody around you to buy into the same thing you want to do.”
• Even though coaches retire or move on, that doesn’t mean they’re not around to help out their successors when asked upon.
When Jonker took over for Batchelor, the two still had a connection, and Batchelor was always around when Jonker needed advice.
“He was a really useful sounding board and was always there if I had any questions or issues, he’d kind of give me his perspective and that was really useful as well,” Jonker said. “It’s not like he rode off into the sunset. He was still at a lot of the practices and games, so he was still around and was able to give his insight.”
The same rings true for J-L football coach Joe Smokevitch. As a long time assistant for hall of fame coach Fred Davis, Smokevitch took over the program after John Bush coached the team for three seasons.
Davis coached the Cardinals for 26 years and was with the program for more than three decades before retiring after the 2009 season.
During his tenure, the Cardinals made the playoffs 16 times and won 167 games.
Even to this day, Smokevitch can seek the guidance of Davis when needed.
“If I need to talk to Fred, I can call Fred,” Smokevitch said. “I can say, 'Hey, this is what I’m thinking, what are your thoughts?' Same with John Bush. If I have questions, Fred is always there to lend a hand, even when he quit coaching and John Bush took over.
“I can think of one day where we took an entire hour looking at a fullback trap play and what was going wrong (with the play). We spent more than 45 minutes just looking at one play basically, and that’s just the kind of the guy Fred is, was and always has been.”
Proctor has also received help from Guild after his retirement last season.
“He stopped in a couple games last year, and I’ve talked to him about a couple of questions,” Proctor said. “He was a great influence for me, and he is somebody I can go to and talk to if I need that advice.”
Carrying the torch
• Whether it’s rebuilding a program or carrying on the success a team has enjoyed under a coach, there are a few ways to reach those goals.
For Lundteigen and the Northmen ski team, maintaining the dynasty that is Petoskey skiing takes dedication and preparation and willingness from all involved.
“The training is what makes it work,” Lundteigen. “The goal is for everyone to improve, and when you train the right way, then that’s a lot easier to see happen. That’s one thing I’m happy about, we train the right way and the results show that.
“The kids that buy into that, they get better, and if you don’t, you stall out and other people pass you, so we’ve got a lot of kids that work at it. The kids buy into that and they’re accountable.”
Smokevitch said his advice to coaches taking over programs after legends had moved on would be building relationships with players at a young age and staying true to yourself.
“When you’re first taking over a program, building relationships is the biggest thing,” Smokevitch said. “Building those relationships for the kids get to know you and your personality, those kinds of things.
“And don’t try to be something you’re not. I know I’m not Fred Davis. I know I’m not John Bush. I’m not those people. I want to be me and be comfortable doing what’s comfortable to me.”
As for Jonker, the goal for him and the goal for all coaches should be leaving a foundation that the next coach who takes over a program is also set up to maintain success moving forward, he said.
“I want to make sure that I leave the program better than I found it, which might be an unobtainable goal,” Jonker said. “I’ve only got a few years left, and hopefully I’ll be able to pass it on to somebody that’s passionate and will continue the tradition that Scott started, and I kept alive.
“I just want to keep it rolling and hopefully pass it on, in a few years, to somebody that’s just as passionate and ready to take it to even greater heights."
By Arielle Breen - Gaylord Herald Times
JOHANNESBURG — Students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools will start the 2018-19 school year with more dual enrollment options thanks to a successful pilot program expansion between the school and Alpena Community College (ACC).
At the start of the school year in September, eight J-L students enrolled in a pilot English 111 class through ACC without a commute between the two locations. Under the current pilot program, J-L students show up for class at the high school and their teacher communicates with them via a web cam video conference from Alpena.
But starting in September, the school plans to increase the number of satellite classes offered to high school students.
“(It’s so good for students) because now they don’t have to drive to classes, and they can take them during the school day,” Danica Nowak, J-L High School counselor, said.
She said some students who live in Lewiston would have a long commute to drive to Gaylord for certain dual enrollment classes. Nowak said having the classes during the school day will also be helpful for student athletes and others with after-school activities or employment.
J-L senior PJ Bucy agreed that having the classes during the day would be helpful.
Bucy is enrolled in the pilot program class that started last year and he will be considered a college sophomore once he graduates from high school this summer and said he has plans to attend Ferris State University for its heating, ventilation and air conditioning program.
He said in that first semester of the pilot program his class at Johannesburg was the only class in on the live feed from the instructor, but this semester other schools have joined in the classroom on the Alpena side of the connection.
Nowak said the schools plan to offer intro to criminal justice, English 111, intro to psychology and speech classes for the 2018-19 school year.
She said the school is also planning a meeting after spring break with parents of students looking into dual enrollment classes.
“(We want to) make sure that the parents are aware of all the opportunities because there is so much,” Nowak said. “Right now, we’re in the process of having students choose the classes they want to take next year.”
Students first need to qualify to take dual enrollment classes based on state standard scores in order to be eligible for the college classes.
JOHANNESBURG — On National School Walkout day last week, Johannesburg-Lewiston High School hosted a special assembly that addressed violence in school.
Principal Curt Chrencik said the assembly was not only meant to address school violence, but it was also an opportunity to focus on compassion, tolerance, acceptance and a responsibility to help others.
“We all know that there’s violence in schools....What we need to understand is there’s violence that happens in this school everyday. Every day,” he said to the group of students. “And there are weapons in this school every day. And you know the biggest one? It’s right here.”
Chrencik held up a cell phone to the middle and high school students who sat in the high school gym bleachers.
“It’s one of the biggest weapons that you have that we misuse continuously,” he said. “You want to talk about why people might react violently? (It could be because they’re) isolated, because they feel like they don’t belong, because they’re hurt, because they’re scared. There’s so many ways and so many things that we can do as students of J-L and as people to make sure that people don’t hurt or aren’t hurt.”
Seven teachers and staff as well as a group of character development class students shared stories surrounding the assembly’s themes.
Ann Quay, JLHS science teacher, emphasized love, avoiding drugs and empathy.
She relayed an experience of learning of a shooting earlier this month at Central Michigan University, where her daughter is a student.
“She said ‘mom, you would not believe the texts and the phone calls I got that morning,” Quay said. “And what I said to her was ‘in those down moments where you think nobody cares, in that one day think about how many people texted you.’”
Mark Peppin, high school social studies teacher, told several stories about the importance of words and how they have significant meaning to others.
“Every year, Mrs. Meyers has her seniors write ‘thank you’ notes. Some of you think it’s tedious....I’ve kept every one,” he said. “I’m having a bad day, somebody says something mean, I’ll look at them. I go back and read ‘Thank you for doing this’....It brightens my day every time….It means something.”
Chrencik said the process of having staff members who know J-L students speak from personal experiences was more meaningful than if the school brought in outside guest speakers since the staff would be better able to connect with students.
At the start of the assembly, students pulled names from a box labeled “Pride” in deep red lettering. Students had the chance to win a range of prizes including items like a pass to cut to the front of the lunch line, gift cards or surprises that come from spinning a small prize wheel in the main office.
This is the first school year where students have had the Cardinal Pride Program.
Last month’s theme was "Responsibility."
“What happens is that teachers, staff, anyone really can use their discretion and when they see a student that is showing responsibility above and beyond or whatever the theme is, they get a ticket,” Chrencik said.
Students then bring the ticket to the office and put it in the Pride Box.
“So, then once a month… we go down to the gym and we hype it up a little bit and we talk about the students and what the character trait was and then we do a drawing,” he said.
At the end of each assembly students learn the focus of next month’s pride month.
The current focus through April is on "Academic Pride," where high school students who are passing all of their classes are entered in the drawings.
May’s topic is “Caring for the Community.” Chrencik said students who bring in canned food donations can receive tickets for the drawing as well as students who volunteer.
J-L hires teacher for homeless students, teens at risk
JOHANNESBURG — Homeless high school students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (J-L) now have a support teacher whose specific goal is to support them at school.
Katy Xenakis-Makowski, J-L superintendent, said having homeless students is not a new occurrence, but the teaching position for those students is.
“In Johannesburg, we typically have anywhere from 10 to 20 students K-12 each year that are classified as homeless,” she said in an email. “We are just trying to ensure that we give every student whatever we can in order to create an environment where they can be successful.”
At the January meeting, the J-L Board of Education unanimously voted to hire Ann Quay for the district’s homeless support teacher position. Quay is also a high school science teacher and said her role as homeless support teacher exists outside of her contracted teaching hours.
“I hope to create an environment for all students so they are comfortable coming to me when they have a need, and I hope to meet the needs of as many as we can — because ultimately, having basic needs met is a precursor to any learning,” Quay said in an email.
She said she plans to establish quality relationships with students as well as working with them and their teachers “to ensure academic success is a focus for them.”
Quay meets with the students outside of regular classes once a week.
“Basically, some of the needs they have are textbooks for college classes, hygiene products, clothes, food, haircuts etc.,” she said. “We try and make sure they succeed in school by taking the worry out of after-school concerns.”
The homeless support teaching position funding allows for 20 hours per school year.
At risk and after school help
• The board also approved Cody Gascho to fill the district’s at-risk aide position and Tammy Myers was hired as the second after school support teacher.
“(Cody Gascho) is a new hire with an outstanding resume who we believe will be able to connect with our students and help support them,” Xenakis-Makowski said.
Students meet state criteria of being considered at risk through a variety of avenues and schools received funding toward programs to assist those students. The 2017-18 school year State Aid Status Report puts J-L’s at-risk funding at about $290,000 for the school year.
Students who do not meet school and state proficiency standards on tests, victims of child abuse or neglect, students who are frequently absent and students who come from under performing schools each are considered examples of at risk students.
Xenakis-Makowski said there was a need for added support in the district.
Since the beginning of the school year, J-L has offered after school support for students in grades 6-12 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Myers, a high school special education and English teacher, is taking on Monday and Wednesdays as the after school support teacher.
Students can now have after school support Monday through Thursday until 5:45 p.m.
J-L students score higher than state, education district
JOHANNESBURG — Students at Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools (JLAS) tested better overall than the state and its education district on nearly every part of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) earlier this year, according to Katy Xenakis-Makowski, the district’s superintendent.
Xenakis-Makowski presented the latest test scores at the district's November board of education meeting.
She said JLAS students tested above the state and Cheboygan-Otsego-Presque Isle Educational Service District average in 18 of the 20 categories measured in M-STEP.
Fourth- and sixth-grade math were the two areas the district scored below the state average.
“In the two areas below either the State or ESD, there was a small percentage difference and the district has identified new resources and additional time for the curricular areas impacted,” reads part of Xenakis-Makowski's presentation to the board.
The test grades students in third- through eighth-grade on subjects like English language arts, math, science and social studies. It also tests 11th-grade students on science and social studies.
This is the third year Michigan schools have used the spring M-STEP after it replaced the fall MEAP test.
Several board members questioned the low proficiency scored in the state's scores. Xenakis-Makowski said the proficiency levels on the test change annually and that the schools don’t know what the cut score is for proficiency.
"When you take a test, what percentage is passing? Some people think 60 percent is passing — some 75 percent, some 80 percent," she said in an email.
"Every year the state determines how many questions must be correct on an M-STEP test (after the test is taken) in order for a student to be considered proficient. Questions, numbers of questions and how many are required to be correct for passing changes annually."
She said another important part of the picture centers on student growth.
"We have been talking about proficiency, but really what we need to make sure we have is growth," she said. "For example, if a student enters the school district in third grade, but assessments demonstrate the student is functioning at a first-grade level, we work hard through interventions and support opportunities as well as best practices in teaching to get that student to grow."
By the end of the school year, that same student might be at a third-grade level, which means they grew two grade levels in a single school year, but they are not seen as proficient by the state since they would need to be at a fourth-grade level by the end of that year.
A new state law addresses reading levels and requirements for students in third grade and Xenakis-Makowski said the reading law "focuses on proficiency, but will hopefully allow examples of growth and intervention to allow for student advancement." More information on the reading law is scheduled to appear in a future Herald Times story.
According to the state’s testing calendar, the next round of M-STEP tests includes about four weeks starting April 2018.
In her closing comments at the board meeting, Xenakis-Makowski said: “(J-L) students are outperforming others near and far due to the dedication of parents, students, teachers and staff. As a district, we know it is the partnership and value placed on quality education that help our students achieve.”
J-L students also scored above state average on the SAT. Last school year's juniors took the spring SAT and had an average score of about 1014 this year, compared with the ESD’s average of 1007 and the state average score of around 990.
In early 2016, Michigan switched from the ACT achievement-style test to the SAT, an aptitude test with questions that increase in difficulty as the test goes on. Scores range from 400 to 1600.
Xenakis-Makowski added that overall, “we have to be careful and balance test scores with the bigger picture of student growth. It can't just be about one test."